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Art on the Internet? Leading authorities will debate its evolution and future at UC Berkeley symposium
27 Jan 2000

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Think Internet and you think tons of data, downloading music, hot start-up companies and on-line shopping. But art in cyberspace may not quickly come to mind.

The emerging genre of Internet art, however, is gaining practitioners, critics and observers while raising questions about identity, human territory, communication, culture and technology, sacred places, time, aesthetic value and meaning.

"Critical and Historical Issues in Net Art," dubbed CRASH, will be held Feb. 16-19 at the University of California, Berkeley, to explore these questions and others about the role of the Internet in 20th century art.

"This is not 'Yet Another Net Art Festival'," cautioned Ken Goldberg, one of the program's coordinators, who also is a UC Berkeley industrial engineering professor and an Internet artist.

A select group of noted historians, art curators and critical theorists will join Internet artists as symposium participants in public and private discussions and programs. Many of these critics and scholars have had little or no prior exposure to Internet art.

"What's really innovative about this is we're essentially bringing two worlds together," Goldberg said. "Hopefully, that's where the sparks will fly."

Noted guests at the symposium include:

· Hal Foster, well-known art historian, editor of the journal "October," and professor of modern art history at Princeton University.

· David Ross, curator of the San Francisco Modern Art Museum. The museum recently appointed a new media curator who is a specialist in Internet art and who was co-founder and curator of the now-defunct ada'web, an on-line art exhibition program.

· Steve Dietz, curator of new media at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and a net art authority.

Others participants include Martin Jay, professor of history at UC Berkeley; Anne Wagner, professor of art history at UC Berkeley; Victoria Vesna , professor at UCLA's Center for Digital Arts; Randall Packer, director of Zakros InterArts in Washington, D.C.; Lev Manovich, professor of visual arts at UC San Diego; and Peter Lunenfeld of the Pasadena Art Center's digital media program.

"Sessions will be devoted to new developments within the art, to how artists understand their own work, and to how scholars and critics can develop interpretive and evaluative language for work that is as likely to develop among engineers as it is among graduates of art schools," said Charles Altieri, a UC Berkeley professor of English and director of the campus's Consortium for the Arts.

"So, this is a unique occasion for elaborating and testing how this new community is developing new aesthetic principles and challenging prevailing orthodoxy," he said. "But at the same time, this is an occasion for confronting net artists with challenges from those whose expectations about experimental art are shaped by modernist and post modernist traditions."

Shawn Brixey, professor of art and director of the digital media in the art practice department at UC Berkeley, said Internet art has emerged even more rapidly than its most recent art and technology forerunners such as video and multimedia, and may erroneously appear unprecedented to the casual observer.

"We believe that through the rigorous dialogue and analysis at the center of this symposium, we will be able to triangulate its historical, critical and conceptual foundations, encourage further academic research, and maybe even illuminate its future trajectory," Brixey said.

Asked where Internet art is headed, Steve Dietz of the Walker Art Center quoted critic Leo Steinberg, who in 1968 said, "The deepening inroads of art into non-art continue to alienate the connoisseur as art defects and departs into strange territories leaving the old stand-by criteria to rule an eroding plain."

As that trend continues, Dietz said, "Net art, it seems to me, is now leading the stampede into 'strange territories,' and it behooves the established art world to understand it better."


· On Wednesday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m., a two-hour lecture, "Signal or Noise? The Network Museum," at Wheeler Auditorium will kick off the symposium. Steve Dietz will share a broad sampling of sophisticated Net art and illustrate how the average person can find and access it.

· On Friday, Feb. 18, programs at the Berkeley Art Museum Theater, 2625 Durant Ave., will offer a free glimpse of Internet art, along with its tools, aesthetic strategies and intellectual approaches. Seating is limited to 200.

The programs include:

+ At 10 a.m., "Worldwide Simultaneous Dance: Connecting Cyberspace to the Global Landscape" by Laura Knott, director of the Laura Knott Dance Projects in Boston. Hundreds of "dancers" in different locations around the globe will appear on individuals' browser screens.

+ At 11:15 a.m., "The Sound of Art" by sound artist Ed Osborn of San Francisco. Osborn recorded ambient sounds created by people viewing great works of art.

+ At 1 p.m., "Insurgency on the Internet," by rTMark, a self-described "net saboteur and founder of the Barbie Liberation Organization."

+ At 2 p.m., "Moving Targets," a program by Lynn Hershman Leeson, a digital artist and professor of art at UC Davis who directed the recent feature film, "Conceiving Ada."

· On Saturday, Feb. 19, the public is welcome to the final panel discussions, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30-4 p.m., at the Berkeley Art Museum Theater. Space is limited to 200.

The symposium is sponsored by the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley, in collaboration with the Department of Art Practice, College of Engineering, Berkeley Art Museum and Townsend Center for the Humanities. The UC Berkeley Extension and California Alumni Association are sponsoring the opening address. The consortium plans to publish transcripts of the debate to help further dialogue about the topic.



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